Have you ever looked around at the state of the world and wondered why God doesn’t just scrap the whole thing and start over? Are there moments when you are so disgusted by human behavior that you wonder how God can put up with us?
The Book of Genesis begins with God delighting in creation, delighting in humanity, who God sees as the very best of the creation. By the time we come to the story of Noah and the ark, only six chapters in, God is extremely upset. Let me read the narrative:
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry to have made humankind on the earth, and felt deep grief. So the Lord said, “I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry I ever made them.
But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.”
Except for Noah, according to tradition, God couldn’t take humanity any more. So, what was it about Noah that was favorable in God’s eyes? Genesis chapter 9 verse 7 simply says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.”
We are to understand that Noah and God are in a relationship. They spend time together. They know each other. (A good question for us is in Lent is, Can we say the same thing? How are we spending time with God? How well do we and God know each other?)
In response to the goodness of Noah, God does something amazing – God establishes a covenant with Noah, his descendants and with every living creature to never destroy the earth again with a flood. Here’s the key point: God takes a weapon of war, a bow, and places it in the clouds, as a sign to help God (not us) remember God’s promise of love.
In other words, this is the first story in the Bible of God’s unilateral disarmament. God is relinquishing God’s weapons for the sake of his beloved Noah and for the sake of all life. God is making a commitment to humanity and to all of creation to not use the Divine power God has to destroy. This is an act of Divine Repentance. God is changing God’s ways for the sake of beloved Noah, all humanity to come, and the creation. And God recognizes that the well-being of humanity and the well-being of the creation are one. Out of love, God is willing to stop being destructive and instead to be protective.
Fast forward to 2021. Although God has promised not to destroy the earth with a flood, we humans have brought the creation to the brink of destruction by our actions, something the writer of Genesis could never have foreseen. Scientists tell us that we have entered a new era, the “Anthropocene,”an unprecedented epoch in which human activity is impacting the ongoing course of evolution.
The covenant God makes with Noah, his descendants, and all of creation to never again fully destroy the earth shows what God is willing out of love to do for us. Now as we begin this Lent, at a time when humanity is at the brink of destroying God’s creation, we must ask ourselves what out of love are we willing to do for God and the creation? What destructive ways are you and I willing to relinquish; what changes are we willing to make, for the sake of all life?
Lent is a season that invites us to take an honest, sober look within ourselves and beyond ourselves to recognize those attitudes and actions that are destructive and to stop. Stop. To put down and fast from those weapons of war we use against ourselves, others, and the earth so that we can all share in the abundance of life that God promises.
Let’s take a few minutes to consider how we might grow in our relationship with God by fasting from our destructive patterns towards ourselves, others, and the earth.
On Wednesday night before we began the Ash Wednesday service, Julie Carbin shared that one year, she gave up her “inner critic” for Lent. My heart was so touched by that. Do you talk to yourself in self-destructive ways? Do you habitually behave in ways that are harmful for you? Instead, can you look at yourself the way that God looks at you, with eyes of love? Lent is an opportunity to name these self-destructive patterns, set them aside, and allow yourself to be embraced by Unending love.
Lent is also a time to consider the patterns we have that can destroy others in mind, body or spirit. This is a long list. Judgment of others being near the top. What about indifference? Or disrespectful or abusive language or action? Or the collective ways we hurt others through racism and the other “isms?” Lent is also an opportunity to name the ways we habitually harm others and to stop. Instead, can you look at and treat others – especially those with whom you struggle – with acceptance, care, and kindness?
This week we have again been powerfully reminded of the ways in which our collective habits have harmed the planet. What happened in Texas appears likely the result of human-caused climate change and the inaction of Texas leaders to maintain elements of the power grid to be prepared for an extreme winter weather event.
If we are going to turn things around for the planet, it’s going to take all of us – without exception – changing our ways. It means recognizing that the well-being of ourselves, our families, our communities, and our country is inextricably linked to the well-being of the of the earth.
It’s discovering that when we act for the well-being of the planet, our own well-being is enhanced and when we act for our own well-being, the health of the planet can be enhanced.
William P. Brown puts it this way: “With the rainbow as its sign, God’s covenant, like the Sabbath, sets an example: it offers a model of human conduct, for only by covenant, by the resolute work of the human community working in consort, can life be sustained amid a new onslaught of destruction, this time wrought by human hands, against the community of creation.”
Climate scientists tell us that we have only 6 years, 313 days to get our carbon emissions to zero. Six years 313 days. This Lent is the time, the sacred time, a decisive moment, for us to act together. God has offered us a covenant to never destroy the earth and her creatures by flood. Now it’s our turn. We must be the ones who create and offer a covenant to God and the creation- that we will stop those actions that are destroying the earth.
A Lenten fast of this nature is imperative. This is what our community engagement with the Climate Solutions online platform and this year’s Enviro-Lent are about: recognizing what changes we need to make, what destructive actions we must stop in order to hold back future floods and wildfires and deep freezes and hurricanes that have caused such great loss of life, horror and tragedy for not only humanity, but for the life that shares the planet with us. Do you remember seeing the photos of the koalas who were scorched in the Australian wildfires? Did you see the charred redwoods in California?
The good news is that we can do this together. This is a Lenten fast none of us need to take alone. We have each other. And we have many different ways to help you begin changing our habits. If you have yet to do so, you can sign up for the Climate Solutions platform. You can be guided by our Enviro-Lent Calendar and join with us on Tuesday’s during Lent at 4 p.m. to learn what you can do, be inspired by what others are doing, build the bonds of community, and even have some fun doing it.
This Lent out of love for the earth what can you fast from? If you’re not sure you want to engage with our online platform or follow the Enviro-Lent calendar– I understand that not everyone would like to engage in these. But, I’m not going to let you off the hook – and I’m not going to let myself off the hook, either. (Ask David about the changes we’ve made at our house.) There are still any number of actions you can begin taking today:
You can fast from using toxic chemicals in your home, garden, and yard.
You can fast from meat – which the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates generates a fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. There are plenty of plant-based proteins available. I’ll even show anyone who is interested how to make some fantastic “Impossible Burger” meatballs for pasta. So good!
You can fast from throwing food waste into your garbage and instead begin composting. Food waste makes up 22% of municipal solid waste, which generates 7% of the world’s emissions. Composting renews the soil, sequestering carbon.
You can fast from keeping lights and appliances on when you are not using them. You can fast from using more heat than you need at home. You can fast from driving when you can walk or ride a bike. You can fast from purchasing unnecessary plastics. You can fast from purchasing bottled water.
You get the idea.
The story of Noah shows us a God who out of love for humanity and the creation – which are inextricably interconnected – is willing to repent, change ways, and stop being destructive. The rainbow is a symbol of the beautiful transformation that can occur when we relinquish destructive ways and instead, choose protective ways.
Jesus begins his ministry telling us that we, too, need to look within and beyond ourselves, to set aside destructive thoughts and actions so that we might enjoy the fullness of God’s abundant life.
We can no longer live as if we do not know what the cost of our destructive behaviors are for ourselves, others, our beautiful earth, our sister and brother creatures, and future generations. It is time for us to lay down our weapons of destruction and to change. It is time for us to make our covenant – our promise – of love for God through stewardship of the earth.
Just as the rainbow reminded God of the promise to never again destroy the earth by a flood, may it now remind us of the promise we need to make to God and the earth to fast and desist from our destructive actions towards ourselves, others, and the earth so that all may live in the fullness and joy of life. Amen.